When people tell you about graduating, they’ll focus just about entirely on the excitement of it. They’ll share with you the wild and raucous fun of senior week, the pride of loved ones, the sheer joy of accomplishing something so important. They’ll talk about everything that comes next, the moving out into the real world, the career, the new friends, the success, the life that comes after. Even the word officially used to describe it, “commencement,” is designed to make it sound like this moment is entirely a beginning, as if by calling it by the right name we can erase every ending it implies.
What they won’t tell you, though it is equally true, is that as the days roll closer you’ll start counting down lasts. They won’t tell you that every event will be marred, just enough to take the edge of complete happiness off of it, by the knowledge that it won't happen again. They won’t tell you about the fear that the success others find will remain elusive for you, and the way you’ll find yourself looking around anxiously, sure that, at any moment, someone is going to tell you that a mistake was made, that you don’t deserve a diploma. They won't tell you that when you’re clearing away the last boxes you’ll pause, for a moment, and be overwhelmed by all the ending, terrified nothing quite like this will ever happen to you again.
Both of these, of course, are true. Graduating from college truly is an exciting experience, one in which all the possibilities for the rest of your life lie before you, one in which your future is at your fingertips. It’s also a truly terrifying one, in which everything that you’ve been able to rely on as a foundation is starting to disappear, leaving you with nothing more than yourself. These two aspects of ending one’s college career dance together in those last few days, and the experience isn’t complete without them both. It’s only by tempering the fear or joy of one with its opposite that we can truly understand the beauty of these kinds of moments, in all their complexity.
This is not, of course, true only for those of us graduating college. The end of something often precedes the beginning of another, and the beginning of something often requires the ending of something else. We can’t look at only one of these aspects and claim that we understand what we’re going through, or what this means. To truly understand the things that happen in our lives we need to be able to embrace them in their entirety, to truly grapple with everything they can mean. Otherwise, we know only half of everything we do, which is to say that we know nothing at all.
With excitement and optimism,